NEW YORK – “Relax,” judge Richard Meen told each of the seven group winners as they vied for the title of Best in Show at the 140th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. As a psychiatrist, Meen was more concerned for the handlers than for the dogs.
“Dogs take care of themselves,” he said afterward. “It’s humans that are a mess.”
True to Meen’s diagnosis, winner CJ—a 65-to-1 longshot, according to Johnny Avello of Las Vegas’s Wynn Hotel and Casino—spent his victory press conference placidly chewing chicken treats before arranging himself delicately along the floor while his handler, Valerie Nunes-Atkinson, searched for words to describe her joy.
The three-year-old German shorthaired pointer, whose show name is Grand Champion Vjk-Myst Garbonita’s California Journey, is only the third of his breed to win the title at Westminster, and is descended from the first two, Carlee, who won in 2005, and Traveler, who won in 1974. Nunes-Atkinson is the first breeder-owner-handler to win at Westminster since 1983.
It was a big night for Nunes-Atkinson, who will handle reserve Best in Show winner Lucy the Borzoi in 2016.
Shota Hirai, the husband of breeder and owner Mai Ozeki, finished 2015 with a nearly unprecedented placement for a Westminster rookie, making their long flight from Japan worth it.
Five-year-old Skye terrier Charlie, who finished second last year, will settle into retirement. Handler Larry Cornelius knew he had a star when he met the dog as a five-month-old. “There are a lot of pretty dogs that don’t believe they’re pretty,” he says. “Charlie knows he’s better than everyone else.”
The best is yet to come for Charlie—Cornelius promised him a cheeseburger as a retirement gift.
A year after winning Best of Breed in her Westminster debut, German shepherd Rumor was the 4-to-1 favorite for Best in Show.
She and handler Kent Boyles racked up 60,000 miles last year traveling to events and entered the year as the No. 1 show dog in America, with twice as many points as No. 2.
No Samoyed has yet won at Westminster, but Bogey didn’t seem intimidated.
His handler Andrew Green also comes from impressive lineage: His father, Peter Green, who was mentioned in Sports Illustrated, won Best in Show at Westminster with a Sealyham terrier in 1977.
Panda the shih tzu rested his head on a neck pillow patiently as he was tended to. His hair takes an hour to put together and 30 minutes to take apart. “This is a high-maintenance animal,” says handler Kathy Bilicich-Garcia.
The crowd got a good laugh when he briefly shook his perfect locks out of alignment in the ring.
Panda didn’t have the most unusual hairstyle at the event. Although Barry the Komondor didn’t advance beyond the Group stage, he was popular among fans.
In the end, they’re all just dogs—bulldog Annabelle’s favorite out-of-ring activity is flopping in mud puddles, says handler Jean Heathering, who judged the dog when she was a puppy and immediately agreed when, a few months later, Annabelle’s owners asked her to show her.
The MSG crowd was enamored of Annabelle, who seemed to scoff at the dogs ahead of her who jogged around the ring. The little bulldog plodded deliberately to her position.
Sports were everywhere Tuesday night, as a St. Bernard named Peyton (“He’s from Indiana and his brother’s name is Eli,” says handler Melody Salmi) met a defensive end named Justin Tuck. “Don’t tell me that!” he howled as Salmi recounted Peyton’s history.
Nevertheless, it was CJ’s night, not that he seemed terribly impressed with his victory. But Nunes-Atkinson couldn’t stop gushing. “He was born this way,” she said after the show. “He knows what he’s supposed to do. What he does, it wasn’t really trained. It was just reinforced. He has that extra sparkle.”